Let me use a religious metaphor to explain a story. As a young boy I seldom went to the Church unless I was coerced or bribed. I was more interested in Sunday football than Sunday worship.
None of my pals went either. We had no idea what took place within those sacred walls but we just knew it was bound to be worse than school, especially when one of our teachers, dressed even more sombrely than normal, with a starched hat cemented on her head, bristled past us. The men who attended in dark suits and ill-fitting ties gave us a look, which could either have been interpreted as envy or divine wrath – it was difficult to say.
Of course, as I grew up I became aware that my stereotypical assumptions were – well – assumptions.
The majority of those folks who attended that wee Kirk were decent, hard working individuals who did a power of good in the wider community and enriched the lives of others. I also discovered that Sunday worship could – though not always - be even more interesting than a football game.
It’s a common trait to pigeonhole folks simply from looks or the way they dress or behave. We tend to give a wide berth to those who are different from us especially those individuals who are classed as ‘unpredictable.’ So here’s the religious bit — in the Bible Jesus encountered many of these unique people – we are told they were ‘demon possessed’ in reality they probably suffered from some form of mental illness. It’s a frightening ailment. It’s also very common.
1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. About 10% of children have a mental health problem at any one time. Self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe: 400 per 100,000 population.
However many carers still feel powerless when they see a loved one struggle with the condition. Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, anorexia and bulimia are common traits but often go unnoticed because the sufferer takes every opportunity to mask the seriousness of their condition.
Jesus broke through those stereotypical barriers through touch and understanding and accepted those deemed as outcasts as worthy and important people in the sight of God – which of course they were. Even though we may not understand or feel uncomfortable around certain individuals we are called to care and affirm the importance of them – they need to know they are loved. It is our human calling. It is also what our counselling is all about.